Last year a volunteer of ours received just over £200 in Housing Benefit overpayments over the space of a few weeks. As is quite understandable he assumed the Local Authority would have gotten their calculations correct, having supplied all the correct information to them and did not realise there had been any overpayment. He used this money to meet housing costs, and so when the error was noticed could not immediately repay the money.
A tribunal recently ruled in this case that the burden to identify such mistakes falls with the claimant – not the Authority or landlord. Z2K is concerned that Housing Benefit rules seem to expect even seriously ill, debilitated or otherwise vulnerable claimants to understand benefit calculations which Local Authorities, who should be the experts, do get wrong. Indeed the council fully admitted they had made an error in this case.
Judges themselves have previously identified housing benefit cases as problematic. In a Housing Benefit case, Gargett v Lambeth London Borough Council  which went to the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Wall considered:
In my view it remains an apparently non-eradicable blemish on our operation of the rule of law that the poorest and most disadvantaged in our society remain subject to regulations which are complex, obscure and, to many, simply incomprehensible.
Z2K will be appealing this decision.
If you have been affected by Housing Benefit Overpayments get in touch to see if we can help:
admin@z2K.org, 0207 259 0801